Germany’s leading ballet has agreed to pay its first and only Black ballerina €16,000 ($19,346.40), after a lawsuit was filed against the company for discrimination in the workplace.
Chloé Lopes Gomes joined what is known as Germany’s most prestigious ballet company, Berlin’s Staatsballett, in 2018 as a corps de ballet member. Lopes Gomes was told in October 2020 that her contract, originally set to expire in July 2021, would not be renewed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
But according to the French ballerina, 29, the reason she was fired was because she was Black.
“From the beginning, I didn’t stand a chance,” she said.
A Hostile Work Environment
Lopes Gomes trained in Marseille, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and danced for the Ballet de l’Opéra de Nice before joining Berlin’s Staatsballett. It was an opportunity of a lifetime as it was always her childhood dream. As the first Black ballerina, she hoped that it would encourage other young dancers of color to never give up.
“I’m happy that I had the chance to show other young Black girls that they could do the same,” she told The Guardian.
Her life as a dancer with the company was everything but a fairytale. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, she spoke out about her experiences as a Black dancer who was told on multiple occasions that she didn’t fit in because of her skin color.
On one occasion, while working on the production of Swan Lake, she said the ballet mistress forced her to wear white makeup for the production to “blend in.” She claims the same teacher refused to give her a white veil for a performance of La Bayadère. The teacher said she couldn’t give her one because “the veil is white and you’re Black.”
Under her court settlement, Lopes Gomes’s contract will be renewed until the end of the 2021/22 season.
On Instagram the dancer said her case “was a small victory but a huge step for the ballet world”.
She added, “after 8 months of fight we finally found a compromise even if it’s sad to have gone through all of this. I realized (sic) that even if I feared the consequences, speaking out was the best thing to do. I encourage everyone to break the silence. And again, thank you for all your support without you I couldn’t have made it!”